Saturday, February 24, 2007

Online mothers: the movie

Angelica sent me a movie she made with slides and music using windows movie maker. That reminded me of this movie I made over a year ago. The movie gains in relevance as I start working more online. It has huge advantages in terms of giving flexibility in timing of work. But it's harder to stop at times. When I see this, I'm inspired to make another movie about sheep with slides and the same music.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The advisory role as puzzle solving

Yesterday I saw the film Babel from director Alejando Gonzalez Iñárritu. There are various storylines (in Marocco, Japan, Mexico) and at some point you discover the link between the various storylines. The link between Marocco and Mexico gets confirmed when you see a picture of the children in their father's wallet. From the review of the film: "this movie is constructed as a puzzle, with different pieces transpiring during different times and in different places over a five-day span".

The feeling you get when you see the picture of the children, and suddenly, in retrospective, you understand some of the conversations that took place or some of the things that happened, is the same I have as an advisor when I get a certain clue. Suddenly a lot of things click. It is at that point in time that I feel certain and start to act (give feedback or whatever). As a facilitator or convenor for communities of practice (or other internal advisor role) I don't have that experience, though the puzzles remain. I guess that as an external advisor you have more distance and as a result, are able to see things more clearly. (this links to a previous post talking about the difference role of an internal and external advisor to a community of practice)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

More oneliners

There is some contradiction in the fact that the busier I get working with communities of practice the less time I find to blog about my experiences. And a blog does not seem the best place for digesting experiences, rather for pointing to new articles, phrases, things you overheard that ring a bell, etc.

So here are two oneliners I heard at the end of a meeting about e-tools and communication, worth sharing with you:
'Communiceren is zo dicht mogelijk langs elkaar heen praten'
(seems to be a quote from Seth Gaaikema :)
'Luisteren is wachten tot de ander is uitgepraat'
I discovered the first one is quite famous and even the titel of a book.

Those are hard to translate but let me try: 'communication is trying to talk as closely as possible past each other' (don't know if that's still english). The second one is easier: 'Listening is waiting till the other finished talking'

Sunday, February 18, 2007

On carnaval and warts

Innovation often starts with timely feedback on your performance. Last Friday, I helped with the carnaval celebrations at school, where I took this great picture of my daughter and some classmates (some of my blog ideas actually start with a nice photo, but I only start writing when I have a click with a good topic). Like last year and the year before, it was well organised. Today I received an email asking whether we had liked the event and had any suggestions. In replying, I was able to congratulate them and give some small ideas for improvement, that I hadn't told them on Friday. I think this is a brilliant way of asking for feedback, just a day after an event. And not by a long question list, but just a simple and open mail.

Some weeks ago, my other daughter had a wart on her foot and I took her to the general practitioner, a young doctor. I will spare you the picture of the wart... She treated the wart, three times, and said the wart should drop off after some time, but nothing happened. The fourth time there was an older doctor. He did the same thing and after 3 days the wart dropped off. But I didn't have the opportunity to give this feedback to the young doctor, as it would seem like undermining her expertise. Still, I have the idea she has to learn how hard to really apply the ice for the wart to disappear.

It seems if we all would become smarter at using all the media at our disposal for getting feedback, and improving our feedback systems we could learn faster (maybe the doctor is reading my blog :)...

Friday, February 09, 2007

First aid

De Galan and Voigt have a nice summary of a meeting with Chris Argyris online. He explains that we live in a model I world: "Er is een Nederlander geweest... hoe heet die dierentuin ook al weer bij Den Haag? O, ja, natuurlijk, Wassenaar. Is die er niet meer? Nou, ja. In ieder geval die Nederlander, ik ben z'n naam vergeten, die deed onderzoek bij apen, gedragsonderzoek. En wat blijkt, rechttoe rechtaan Model I. Bij de mannetjes zat nog wel eens wat Model II, maar bij de dames, ho maar. Het is dus evolutionair bepaald." En dan serieuzer "Wij zijn veroordeeld tot Model I, dat is hoe ons verstand werkt. Wij zijn in staat om zeer snel tot een keuze te komen in een brij van gegevens. " And in response to the question why he continues to work on model II: "Ik zie mijn werk als een poging om bij te dragen aan het creëren van situaties waar mensen de vrijheid kunnen ervaren om een keuze te hebben. "

(short translation; research with apes shows that behaviour is predominantely model 1. I see my work as an attempt to contribute to creating situations where people can experience the freedom to have a choice).

I borrowed the book: "Eerste hulp bij ongewenste resultaten" written by Loes Wouterson and Pim Bouwman. I borrowed it after reading Chris Argyris (forgot the title something with action learning), a great and inspiring book, about model I and model II thinking, yet I found it hard to make it practical.

This book really helps to do so. The subtitle is introduction to reflection in action, models and concepts of Chris Argyris made 'workable' for everyone. Besides introducing a very lengthy practical case, which illustrates the theory, it explains how to use the ladder of inference. For instance the case method to gain insights in what you do in conversations that don't work for you and how this influences the results you get. It helps to have an external person helping you.

Step 1: Describe the context
Step 2: Write down what was said in the right column
Step 3: What did you think and feel, but you didn't say so?
Step 4: What were the results of the conversation?
Step 5: What were your actions (in terms of asking questions, reasoning, defending etc)?
Step 6: Note down the reasons (your frame of mind)
Step 7: What insights and ideas of new actions did you gain?

Within communities of practice, there is hopefully more model II thinking and less model I thinking. That seems to be somehow an automatic process amongst practitioners who recognise each other's questions.. Or am I being too optimistic?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Community of practice variety from a complexity perspective

There's an interesting article by Shawn Callahan (of anecdote) and Patricia Milne on variety from a complexity perspective. It dates a few years ago and was published here:

Callahan, S. D. and P. Milne (2004). ActKM: Variety in a Community of Practice from a Complexity Perspective. Human Perspectives in the Internet Society: Culture, Psychology and Gender. K. Morgan, J. Sanchez, C. A. Brebbia and A. Voiskounsky, WIT Press.

Finally an article talking about interventions for communities of practice from an advisory perspective! They call the advisor who tries to influence the functioning of a CoP a 'designer'.

"A set of mechanisms is explored to understand how a designer might influence variety in a community of practice. Four mechanisms are addressed:

  1. The process of copying strategies and types
  2. Copying with error
  3. Recombination of ideas
  4. Role of the physical environment"
When they talk about variety, they refer to what I would call diversity, the opposite of homogeneous CoPs (homogeneous in terms of topics, people, knowledge areas the members bring along, etc). Variety is important for the liveliveness of a CoP. Variety is important too, to drive creativity and innovation. Too much variety though may be hard to deal with, as it can lead to conflicts. Consequently, there are times when diversity should be encouraged and other times when it should not. (all this my interpretation). The article helps to explore when and how to encourage diversity. Like, when to encourage new people to join? When to stimulate people from a certain different background to become actively part of the core group. The articles gives some ideas on how to stimulate diversity; eg. in the physical environment by stimulating various ways of communication. Some members may be attracted to online discussions, whereas others prefer face-to-face. Ensuring variety in ways of communication in a CoP helps to stimulate variety in ideas.

From the article: "Community designers should remain mindful of variety, and, if appropriate, should use the mechanisms described above to influence it. (...) Interventions can be applied by an external force or by an internal force within the community. "

I think an external advisor/designer can see much clearer than an internal person when variety within a community of practice is flawed and hampering innovation within that community. That could be a very important role external advisors can play in a community of practice development process.